Bob Barnhart’s Lantern Festival at Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Intel Drones Light Show at Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show
(Intel Corporation)

Live Design takes you behind the scenes of the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show in this Q&A with lighting designer Bob Barnhart from 22 Degrees Entertainment Design Firm as he shares his “intel” on the use of 150 enhanced Intel Shooting Stars. Barnhart implemented these as a choreographed live lantern festival, with the lanterns floating over the field and spelling out “ONE LOVE” during Maroon 5’s song “She Will Be Loved.” The lanterns flew on a pre-programmed path without GPS thanks to special software and an indoor positioning system (ultimately, the stadium roof was closed during the show).

Live Design: Can you talk about the new Intel Shooting Star Flying Lanterns?

Bob Barnhart: The new Intel Flying Lanterns came from an idea I had been working on since last March. I’ve wanted to do a Lantern Festival with a twist at the end. So I got with my friends at Intel in April and asked if they can make a lantern fly. Daniel Grudan, who is a senior principal engineer in the Intel Shooting Star program, who also made the Gaga American Flag happen three years ago, started working on it. As you might expect, a ball is not the most aerodynamic shape for flying. So the process had its challenges. However, I will say when you get the power of Intel and the Shooting Star team behind you, I think anything is possible.

Intel Live Drone Light Show at Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Photo Kevin Winter, Getty Images

LD: What was the biggest challenge of using them live at the Super Bowl?

BB: The question is, do you have the stomach to handle the process of trying to pull off a Lantern Festival in the middle of the logistically hardest entertainment event of the year? We needed clearance from the NFL of course, but in addition, we needed the FAA, FCC, and the FBI to sign off on it. That is more difficult than its sounds. One issue with doing a Super Bowl Halftime Show is, you can never simulate Super Bowl Sunday. The amount of people and equipment blasting frequencies that are known and authorized and many that are not, is unimaginable and hard to trace. This whole process is a very long story that could easily take a chapter of a book titled “What was I thinking.” We spent 14 hours on Saturday ghost hunting—we were getting hammered with frequencies that were not originating from inside the building. The NFL, Intel, and Bob Muller, our technical manager, did an amazing job of finding the ghosts or at least scaring them away. The problem is, who’s going to pop up unannounced on Sunday, maybe right at halftime…

Intel Live Drone Light Show at Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Photo Intel Corporation

LD: How are the lanterns controlled?

BB: Tobi Grudan and all the crazy smart people at Intel wrote the software program that controls the lanterns. The flight path of each lantern is choreographed. In April, I started to make a movie, so that I could figure out how I wanted the festival to look and be staged. With this process, I discovered what I felt was the right way to tell/sell this story to the viewer at home. I have never tried to edit a movie before; it became a very good tool for me to learn how to tell a story on TV. What I discovered was:

  1. We needed to raise your curiosity. So I wanted to “stop” the concert and put the performer somewhere else so the viewer at home started thinking ? ? ?
  2. We needed to establish what it was that the viewer was about to see flying in the background. So we surrounded the artist with lanterns.
  3. The WOW factor of “Are those lanterns flying”? Hopefully, some people thought it was beautiful, and others thought, “Wait, how are they going to get those things down?”
  4. We of course wanted to do a little twist at the end and show everyone we had control but, more importantly to me, I wanted to give the artist an opportunity to send a message to the world.

Intel Live Drone Light Show at Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Photo Intel Corporation

LD: What was the artistic process?

BB: Once the artist was chosen, we showed the video to M5. They were all in right away. So I got with Andreas Jalsovec, Intel’s animator (not his official title), and shared my movie with him so we could start the process of making this really look like a lantern festival. During this process, we also discovered that each lantern would have to launch from its own launch pad, with all the pads placed by 155 people (five back up lanterns), who had to put their launch pads down within a six-centimeter position on the field (you can’t spike mark the Super Bowl field, go figure!). KP Terry, our field choreographer, does an amazing job every year, and took this on…this was a crazy request. She made it look easy, really easy. She got members of marching bands, and they had it down in no time.

There are a hundred more stories, but it ends well with a perfect lantern flight—best flight we had since we started testing.

Be sure to register for Barnhart's free webcast to air February 26!

Check out the lighting design, light plots, gear list, crew, and the rest of our Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show coverage here.

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